Albion Armorers Next Generation Duke Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
In the high Middle Ages, the use and quality of mail as the standard armour of the knightly warrior increased. As a result, weapons of the time needed to evolve to counteract these improved defenses. Many swords in that period grew in order to deal more powerful blows against a mail-clad warrior, often using the off-hand for added strength. Swords capable of being gripped by both hands were often called simply "war swords" or "great swords". These swords, while often quite large, were not ungainly or clumsy. Their weight was carefully and purposefully distributed to optimize the sword for its intended use. Some war swords began to develop more effective points for thrusting while others retained a blade suited best for cutting. The sword being discussed here, the Albion Armorers Next Generation Duke, falls into the latter category.
This sword was designed to exemplify the styles of great swords seen in the 13th and 14th centuries. While the Duke is one of several large war swords in the Next Generation line, it is a wholly different sword than the others currently in production.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
This sword exhibits all of the fine characteristics we've come to expect of Albion's Next Generation line. The entire sword is fitted very tightly, and Albion's hilt construction (outlined in detail in other reviews) should yield an assembly that will stay tight for many years. The blade is polished to an attractive satin finished that is a bit glossier than other manufacturers' satin finishes, though it is by no means mirror-polished. The fuller is well-executed on both sides of the blade and terminates rather gracefully for a production-level sword. The guard is round in cross-section, being thicker toward the grip before flaring nicely to slightly trumpeted ends. The grip is of leather over cord-wrapped, stabilized birch. The leather itself is what Albion calls "light brown" or sometimes "campaign worn". It has a very attractive mottling that makes it look as if the sword has seen some use over its life. The surface treatment of the leather does have the effect of exaggerating the seam of the leather more than is commonly seen on Albion's grips, though this reviewer doesn't mind the look at all. The pommel is a seemingly simple disc, though it tapers slightly in thickness. The bevels on the pommel's surface are well done, while the prominent rivet-block really gives the pommel another dimension. The hilt parts, investment cast of mild steel, are cleanly done and exhibit very few casting pits.
Since its purpose is to chop and cleave, it is no surprise that this sword carries a great deal of blade presence which is evident from the moment you first pick up the sword. This feeling continues through light dry handling. It is by no means blade-heavy, though, and moves easily through cuts. In fact, the only time the blade's heft is not felt is while the sword is in mid-swing during a cut. Once the sword is moving, the mass of the blade is negated by its seemingly self-sustaining momentum. It is easy to control where the blade goes, though swords of this type should not be expected to have pinpoint tip-control abilities. The Duke is a pure cutter whose spatulate point would only see a level of effectiveness against soft targets, and even then the thin cross-section would discourage someone from using the sword in that fashion. This is not a criticism; I fully believe that Peter Johnsson and Albion have designed a Type XIIIa as it should be: capable of powerful shearing blows with cross-section and mass distribution tuned for that kind of usage.
It is very easy and very intriguing to try to compare the Duke to another popular member of Albion's Next Generation line, the Baron. Both swords are great recreations of the classic war sword of the high Middle Ages. Although the two swords are similar in some overall dimensions there are key differences which set them apart in type, handling, and purpose. The Baron is designed to have more ability in the thrust; its blade is wider, but its point is more acute due to a more pronounced profile taper. The Duke is designed for cutting: its blade tapers very little in width, giving it a wide, thin tip for powerful cuts. These differences in blade shape contribute to the differences in the swords' points of balance of 3/4 of an inch; a significant enough amount to make them very, very different swords. In my opinion, which was shared at a recent gathering where people were able to handle both swords back-to-back, is that the Baron feels livelier in handling than the Duke, though the Baron weighs nearly half a pound more. Again, this is not a criticism of the Duke; it is more a compliment to Peter Johnsson and Albion for really nailing down the differences between an Oakeshott Type XIIa sword (the Baron) and a Type XIIIa sword (the Duke).
The Duke is no lightweight, nor is it a highly maneuverable precision-oriented weapon, but that is to be expected from this kind of sword. It is a cutting and shearing sword capable of inflicting powerful blows upon its intended target, and engineered to do just that very effectively. Albion Armorers and Peter Johnsson have really captured the essence of this type of war sword with the Duke. This sword may not appeal to everyone, but is an outstanding example of its type.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Photographer: Chad Arnow